News, Technology

A radical bid to overthrow the “data oligarchs”

Anna Wall

Amie Haven, Journalist

Ever wanted to take back control of your data? A digital commonwealth may be the answer.

Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton from the think tank IPPR have proposed a radical new way of managing the digital economy.

They argue for government intervention in order to stop tech giants from exploiting and monopolising data resources and instead distribute data for the common good.

Unashamedly Left-leaning, the proposal pushes for the UK government to lead the way in what will need to be an international effort to rein in the likes of Alphabet, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

The tech giants currently bring in $802 billion in yearly revenue combined, and this dominance of the digital marketplace is largely due to their access to massive amounts of data, which they harvest and retain privately.

The concern is that this monopoly is benefiting the tech giants whilst increasing inequality and triggering social and political problems.

However, instead of arguing for placing limits on data harvesting, the proposal actively encourages it, so long as the data is then made accessible to those offering goods and services that promote the common good.

What it ultimately amounts to is a digital commons, where data is brought under democratic purview and regulated internationally as well as locally.

How can we create a digital commons?

The proposal suggests 4 key overall outcomes, alongside 4 strategies for achieving the outcomes.

Key outcomes:

  1. Stopping platform companies from dominating existing sectors and new markets.
  2. Preventing the hoarding of personal data by dominant, privately owned companies whilst ensuring it is more accessible to public bodies, community groups, and a wide range of companies.
  3. Securing public sector data and making sure it is reliable, readily exchanged, and useful.
  4. Making sure data is accessible to a wide array of civil societies, public authorities, entrepreneurs, and companies/social enterprises.

Key strategies:

  1. Reform competition law: Endow the Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA) with the powers to assess competition on the basis of reducing innovation constraints; limit mergers and acquisitions that could negate innovation; regulate entry into new markets; and require the sharing of data in markets where companies have a data advantage.
  2. Regulate digital giants as utilities: Make sure that non-substitutable goods like search engines, social media connectivity, consumer and supplier matches, communication services, and cloud services are treated as public goods. Create a new regulator – the Office of Digital Platforms – that would require companies to pay for a licence to provide non-substitutable goods and services in the UK.
  3. Establish a public corporation to democratise data: Establish Digital UK to curate public data for collective use and by 2030 become an open and accessible digital jurisdiction through public databanks, making private sector data more accessible, and building public digital infrastructure. 
  4. Create local digital commonwealth building strategies: Local Digital Commonwealth Strategies to form part of the public digital infrastructure that will ensure appropriate use of data for locally specific tools.

There is much more complexity to the proposal and an in-depth read is highly recommended

A radical digital revolution could be in the making.

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